A church in Florida has expelled at least 150 members after being at odds with its new lead pastor and his leadership team for over a year.
According to The Christian Post, the dissenting church members of the historic First Baptist Fort Lauderdale church voted to fire their "bullying" lead pastor, James Welch, their nine-member board of trustees and half the church's deacons last fall.
Welch, who stepped into his role in Spring 2019, "has not created a stable environment, but instead has created a toxic environment and polarized atmosphere for both congregants and staff," the dissenting members, or the First Baptist Church FTL Advocacy Group, as they have called themselves, wrote in a statement voicing their concerns about Welch.
"Without the recognition [of] mistakes or the willingness to listen to congregants, Deacon Body or Trustee Board there is no hope for improvement and thus no way forward," they continued.
The group argued that the church had seen declining numbers in the past 20 years, but membership gradually increased before Welch's arrival. After Welch became lead pastor, the former members claimed the attendance dropped from between 1,000 to 2,000 to almost 750.
The church board, however, rejected the vote, saying that it had no standing and that the group is a "disaffected minority of our members."
In an email sent last Friday, the church's board of trustees said that they voted to remove the church membership of "all" the members who supported or participated in the First Baptist Church FTL Advocacy Group and voted to fire the lead pastor and board members.
"The church's patient efforts to resolve this dispute up to and including the final step of arbitration through the Institute for Christian Conciliation (ICC) have been met by the Advocacy Groups or Concerned Members with repeated delays, constantly shifting positions, refusals to respond at various times, unreasonable demands upon the arbitration process, and demands for amnesty from church discipline for their offenses against the church," the church's trustee board wrote.
They explained that if church members "conduct themselves in a manner contrary to biblical standards and the church's Statement of Faith and Practice, church discipline may be administered by the Trustee Board under guidelines established by the Pastoral Team."
"If biblical discipline is necessary, the Trustee Board has the authority and the obligation to place individual(s) under church discipline, including termination of membership," the board continued.
Should the expelled members choose to repent, then the church would bring them back under a restoration process that would include "a minimum waiting period of one year, the completion of a course in biblical conflict resolution through Peacemaker Ministries, reconciliation with all persons harmed by their actions, and re-application for church membership."
One booted member, Brian Keno, told The Christian Post that people are "livid" after being expelled from the church.
"Look, I can speak for myself. I was extremely upset," Keno said, noting that an 84-year-old deacon who wrote the church's bylaws was also one of the members kicked out of the church after being a member since he was nine years old.
"Being booted out of our church for doing nothing other than trying to be a representative of our body, a congregational-led church. That's who we are," he continued.
Keno also said that the number of expelled members has now exceeded 150. One report estimated that the number of expelled members had grown beyond that, saying at least 200 members had been booted from the church.
Regarding the restoration process, the former member asserts that no one he has spoken to plans to go through with it.
"Heck no! None of us are going to do that," Keno said. "Why should we submit to this? What did we do wrong? We didn't do anything wrong. … Nobody is going to submit to that."
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.